One fell from the sky and the other stepped out from the shadows. A man and a woman; the two most dangerous people I’d ever met. The woman stepped forward, spreading her arms and addressing the fifteen of us.
“Welcome to our game.”
. . . . .
When a child is bored, it’s the ants under their feet that suffer. When a Seeker is bored, it’s much the same. The only difference is the ants.
Graham found himself in a rather precarious situation precisely because of bored Seekers. Two of them, in fact. They’d gathered up regular people to participate in some sick survival game for their amusement; Graham was one of them. Let’s go back to this morning, when he was blissfully unaware of what was to come.
He started the day as he normally did, firing up the computer to play Barren Expanse. He spent a few hours grinding his level and participating in raids to obtain rare items. Once satisfied with his haul, he visited the Item Swap forum and sold it.
He smiled, watching the number on his bank account go up. “Annnnd, that should be enough to pay rent!” He stood and stretched, chuckling to himself. The clock said it was already past noon, so he left his second-floor apartment and headed to the convenience store to pick up something to eat.
The area he lived in was a bit poor. Most buildings were in need of some repairs; paint chipping off, cracked windows, etc. Graham kept his head down as he walked the four blocks to the convenience store, avoiding the eyes of the guys smoking on their steps and ignoring the jackass blazing music from his do-it-yourself convertible.
At the store, he grabbed a basket and started walking the aisles. While grabbing a half-gallon of milk, he turned to see a man a bit down the aisle, dressed in a black hoodie and sweatpants with his hood up. Beyond that, he was even wearing sunglasses!
“Shit, is he gonna rob the place?” Graham looked away, heading to the next aisle at a faster pace. “Let’s just get some lunch meat and get out of here.” He stopped at the deli counter and asked for a pound of turkey, looking around nervously. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the hooded man come out of an aisle and stop to look at him. Or, at least, he assumed he did. It was hard to tell with the sunglasses.
Graham’s breath sped up as the man continued to look his way. “What the fuck does he want? He’s not actually after me is he?” The hooded man started walking his way. Graham’s eyes nearly fell out of his head. “Hurry up, deli guy! Give me the fucking turkey!” His foot tapped against the ground and he felt around in his pocket for pepper spray. Of course, he forgot it at home. “Fuck!”
The hooded man was right behind him. Sweat ran down Graham’s forehead and his back tingled; he could almost feel the knife—that this guy surely had!—sliding in between his ribs. Finally, the deli worker returned and handed him his bag of turkey. Graham took it, turned awkwardly—trying to keep Hood Man out of his line of sight—and walked away.
He made for the nearest aisle and, just as he entered, heard a low voice. “I’d like some ham,” it said. Graham stopped, turned on his heel and gaped as Hood Man pointed out which type of ham he wanted to buy. Graham slapped a hand to his forehead and headed for the front to pay for his stuff.
“I’m such an idiot,” he thought. “He was just in line behind me! What the fuck was I freaking out about?!” Sure, it was a little weird to be dressed like that and wear sunglasses in a store but it’s not a crime, right?
Graham’s heart rate slowed down and he breathed a sigh of relief. He paid for his food and headed home, plastic bags in hand. At the door to his apartment building, he quickly had a look around. “No sign of Hood Man. See, he didn’t want anything to do with me!” He chuckled and headed in.
His apartment only had four rooms; living room, kitchen, bathroom, and the bedroom. He started putting his food away, then went back to playing Barren Expanse. At five, he left again to go for his evening run. He spent every day playing video games and he was determined to not get fat. Besides, he actually enjoyed running.
He started jogging on the route to the park, where he would do most of the actual running. “I wonder who’ll win the next Seeker battle?” he thought. Seeker Battles were events where Seekers were pitted against each other to compete for a prize. It was an incredible spectacle, as Seekers had superhuman abilities like the power to control fire or fly or super-strength. Graham never missed a match.
He turned a corner and stopped short. A group was taking up most of the sidewalk, smoking, talking, and pushing each other around. “Fireboys,” Graham thought, scowling. They were a gang that operated in the neighborhood. They definitely wouldn’t just let him past. “Maybe I can get through the alley?”
He backtracked and found the alley empty. It was dark and there were plenty of places for someone to hide. Fingering the pepper spray that he’d remembered this time, he decided to risk it. He took careful steps, spray in hand and his finger on the trigger. Frequently, he’d turn his head back to make sure no one had entered behind him.
Suspicion began to grow in his chest. “Why is it so dark in here? It’s only five in the evening. The shadows shouldn’t be so deep.” The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “Let’s go back home. This isn’t a good day for a run.” He turned around, but a figure blocked the way back. Graham’s eyes widened. “Hood Man!”
He immediately triggered the pepper spray and aimed it at Hood Man’s eyes. Hood Man simply raised a hand and the stream flew off to the side. Graham paled, stumbling back and falling.
The man chuckled. “I prefer to be called Nautilus.”
Graham pointed an accusing finger. “Y-you’re a Seeker! What do you want?!”
“I’d like you to come with me, blondie. I have something very important I need you to do.”
“You, you can’t take me anywhere! It’s kidnapping. The MPA will find you and put you in jail!” Graham shouted. He pulled out his phone, intending to press the emergency button that would have the MPA there in a few short minutes.
The MPA, or Mortal Protection Agency, policed Seekers and ensured they didn’t abuse their powers to harm mortals. They were a strong presence in most of the world.
Nautilus raised his hand and pointed at the phone. A black beam shot through it, putting a clean hole in the device. Graham gaped at his broken phone, then looked behind him, where another hole could be seen in the ground.
Nautilus approached slowly, dark energy swirling around his finger. Graham scrambled backward, but he couldn’t get away. Nautilus pressed the finger against Graham’s forehead and everything went black.
When Graham awoke, it was morning again, but he was not in his bed. Tall trees surrounded him where he lay in the overgrown grass. A bug landed on his face and he screamed, writhing and swatting at his face to get it off. He managed it and stood, looking around warily for other evil bugs that might mistake him for a perch.
“Alright, why the fuck am I in the woods?” Rather, it was a clearing in the woods. An empty circle in the canopy above allowed him to see the sky. He patted himself down, frowning as he noticed wet patches on his tracksuit from the dew. “Must be early morning.” If he looked into the trees, he could make out the sun shining through the canopy.
“Nautilus must have brought me here. But, why?” He tried to leave the clearing but came to an invisible wall. He pushed against it with his hands to no avail. Slowly, he circled the clearing, testing the wall. There were no openings. “Alright, I’m trapped. This is bad, but don’t panic. You’re not dead, so there’s still hope.”
He went to the center of the clearing and sat down on a large rock. “Hold on, do I still have my things?” He rummaged through his pockets, emptying them on a bare patch of dirt in front of him. “Okay, pepper spray, broken phone, granola bar, house keys.”
He examined the phone, looking at the perfect circle that had been cut through it. It was angled slightly downward. There were no signs of melting plastic and, somehow, the battery wasn’t leaking acid. Which was good, cause it’d been in his pocket until now.
He swallowed heavily. “So this is the kind of thing a Seeker can do… I’ve never seen those kinds of abilities in person.” He shook his head and stuck the phone back in his pocket. It might be useful later, somehow. He grabbed the granola bar, tore the wrapper off, and held the bar in his mouth while he picked up the rest of his things. Then he went back to the clearing’s edge and started scraping the barrier with his keys while eating his breakfast. “Maybe if I keep doing this for long enough, it’ll break?” he mumbled around the chewy bar. It was worth a shot.
Something thudded to the ground behind him and he whipped around, pressing his back against the barrier and shoving the rest of the bar in his mouth. A man dressed in thick black robes dropped a second unconscious person on the ground next to the first. His face was covered by a hood, casting it in deep shadows. Graham tensed, his hands balling into fists. “Nautilus!” he thought. He was dressed differently, but the dangerous air about him was the same.
Graham glanced at the two sleeping people at his feet. “So, it’s not just me he wanted. There’re others.” One was a massive red-haired man, tall and well-muscled. Of course, despite his impressive physique, he was no match for a Seeker. The other was a dark-skinned woman, wearing a stylish sweater and jeans. She’d probably be mad when she found grass stains on her clothes.
Nautilus clasped his hands behind his back. “I see you’re awake. Well, I’ve brought you some friends.”
Graham swallowed the rest of the granola and worked himself up. “Where are we?” he asked. “What do you want with us?” He concealed his shaking hands in his pockets.
Nautilus chuckled. “You sit tight here, not that you have any choice. Everything will become clear in just a little while.” He passed through the barrier like it wasn’t there and vanished in the shadow of a tree.
Nautilus returned a number of times, always bringing a few new ‘friends’ with him. Finally, he dropped off the fifteenth person. Unexpectedly, someone fell from the sky, landing lightly next to Nautilus. A woman whose hair was dyed blue with red streaks. She had a wide jaw and high cheekbones. Her pants were made of leather and she wore a top that came down to her thighs, cinched at the waist with a belt. A short sword hung on the left.
“She feels more dangerous than Nautilus,” Graham thought. She met his eyes and waved her fingers at him. He flinched and looked away. “Definitely dangerous.” Everyone began to wake up, all at once.
The woman strode forward, spread her arms, and smiled. “Welcome to our game!”
A/N: Critique is welcome; I’d love to hear your thoughts on the chapter!